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December 2010 Issue

Red Yeast Rice: Natural Heart Health Supplement or Drug?

If you listen to dietary supplement makers, you might turn to red yeast rice as a natural method to keep your cholesterol levels at bay. Used in some Asian countries as a dietary staple, red rice yeast is made by fermenting rice with the yeast species Monascus purpureus. Red yeast rice contains compounds called monacolins; one, in particular, is mevinolin (or lovastatin,) the same substance found in MevacorŪ, a statin drug produced by Merck & Co., Inc. that slows the production of cholesterol in the body. For more than three decades, human studies have found that red yeast rice lowers blood levels of total cholesterol, LDL ("bad") cholesterol, and triglyceride levels.

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